A convicted killer who acted as a getaway driver in a murder that sparked a 10-year gangland feud in Limerick 23 years ago has been jailed for five years after "accidentally" firing a shotgun that injured his friend.
Paul Coffey, who has 100 previous convictions, pleaded guilty last March to the reckless discharge of a firearm and to possession of a firearm in circumstances suggesting he did not have it for a lawful purpose.
At the Central Criminal Court on Tuesday, Mr Justice Paul Burns sentenced Coffey to six years in prison with the final 12 months suspended for three years in respect of the possession charge. The judge sentenced Coffey to three years for the reckless discharge offence, to run concurrently.
On his release from prison, Coffey will be required to work with the probation services and to keep the peace.
The judge had set the headline sentence at nine years, but reduced that having considered mitigating factors including Coffey's guilty plea. The judge also noted that at the time of the offence Coffey was homeless and using crack cocaine and heroin, but is now drug-free in prison.
Coffey's counsel had asked the court to suspend part of any sentence to incentivise Coffey's continued rehabilitation. His sentence will be backdated to August 2021, when he first went into custody.
Coffey (46), of Lord Edward St, Limerick City, was initially charged with attempting to murder Alan Murphy at Long Pavement, Watch House Cross, Limerick on June 11th, 2020.
The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) later agreed to drop the attempted murder charge and accepted a guilty plea to discharging a firearm, being reckless as to whether any person would be injured, at Long Pavement on June 11th, 2020.
Coffey also pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm in such circumstances as to give rise to a reasonable inference that he did not have it in his possession for a lawful purpose on the same occasion.
At a sentencing hearing last month Sgt Dave Barry told the court that Coffey was linked to the shooting by CCTV footage and firearms residue evidence.
Following the shooting, Mr Murphy was able to drive into Limerick City, where he stopped passersby who then alerted the emergency services. Mr Murphy was treated at University Hospital Limerick for superficial injuries to his abdomen.
Gardaí arrested Coffey and interviewed him 17 times. In interview, Coffey said he was a friend of Mr Murphy's and denied any involvement. In his final interview, gardaí asked him to account for his presence at the scene of the shooting, but he remained silent.
Sgt Barry said Coffey's 100 previous convictions included offences for the misuse of drugs and for road traffic offences.
His most serious offence was from 2003, when he was convicted of manslaughter for the killing of Eddie Ryan Snr who was shot dead while having a drink with his son in the Moose Bar in Limerick in 2000.
Coffey was the getaway driver, the sergeant said, and after the shooting, dropped the two gunmen to a house and burnt out the car in a deserted laneway.
He was sentenced to 15 years with the final seven years suspended for that offence.
Sgt Barry agreed the killing was a "gangland related murder" and is regarded as having begun a feud between rival families in Limerick which lasted 10 years.
The sergeant agreed with Michael Bowman SC, for the defence, that Coffey told gardaí that on the day of the shooting, Mr Murphy was facilitating Coffey by driving him to different locations to buy drugs.
He also said that Mr Murphy would often give Coffey money to buy drugs and at the time Coffey was addicted to heroin and crack cocaine.
Coffey said he had been friends with Mr Murphy for a long time and Mr Murphy, who was also questioned by gardaí, confirmed they had been friends since childhood. Mr Murphy also told gardaí that he knew Coffey had a drug habit and would help him from time to time to "get a fix".
Mr Murphy also told gardaí that on the day he was shot, he was trying to contact a person who owed him €30,000, but that person was not responding to his texts or calls.
The firearm was in Mr Murphy's car, Mr Bowman said, and Coffey was "summoned to attend and remove the firearm and it went off". The firing of the weapon, Mr Bowman claimed, was "accidental".
Sgt Barry agreed that Coffey is now in "much better condition" than he was in 2020, when his lifestyle was "truly chaotic" and he was sleeping wherever he could find a bed and living "hand to mouth in terms of his drug use".
The sergeant also agreed that he was not aware of any animus between Coffey and Mr Murphy.
In his submissions to the court, Mr Bowman said his client had been involved in drug treatment in 2019, but during the Covid-10 lockdowns he "slipped back into drug addiction".
Since his arrest, Mr Bowman said Coffey, who has been in custody since 2021, is an enhanced prisoner on a drug-free landing and is working within the prison.
He said that on the day of the shooting, Mr Murphy had been intending to meet one of the men with whom he had a "difficulty" but that man did not show.
Coffey, counsel said, went to the car driven by Mr Murphy having been asked to remove the firearm which then discharged as he attempted to remove it.